Diversifying Your CoR’s Outreach

by UnitedCoR’s Education Officer and National Coordinator
Education Officer and National Coordinator

UnitedCoR is always looking for new opportunities to expand the outreach and visibility of your local CoR. This month, we want to focus on a fast-growing national group who offers a unique mission that could help your local CoR bring some needed relief to people who are suffering from addiction in your area. Read more about SMART Recovery from its founding president, Dr. Joe Gerstein:

Are you a person in a local CoR who might be interested in becoming trained facilitators in the SMART Recovery 4-Point Program at a community in your area? Do you know of any secular people who are suffering with an addiction, or perhaps you know of someone who wants to find a recovery program that leaves religion out? SMART Recovery is the right place for you!

The SMART Recovery Self-Help Network is a non-profit organization, a partnership between professionals and laypeople, many of whom have been through addictions themselves and recovered via the SMART Recovery route. Almost all work in the organization is done by volunteers. 

The program is science-based, secular, abstinence-oriented and free. It is now available in 19 countries on 6 continents and, as it now approaches the 2000-meeting mark, the #2 mutual-help program in the world! The SMART Program has been designated “evidence-based” by the NICE [National Institute of Health & Care Excellence] Commission of the UK and the Australian Commission on Health Care Quality. It has been endorsed by just about every American governmental and private organization which does so. 

 So, what’s it all about? 

 As all would be aware, the mutual-help for addiction care arena has been dominated by the 12-Step approach for 80 years. Many people have benefited from this format, which features acceptance of one’s powerlessness and a dependence on a “higher power”, which despite protestations that this is a “spiritual, not religious” program, has been judged uniformly by 7 US Circuit Courts of Appeal panels and 3 State Supreme Court decisions to be “pervasively religious”. Some atheists and agnostics are able to stomach these concepts, but most cannot or will not. This rejection does not apply exclusively to non-theists. The most common reason for attendees leaving AA groups is “excessive religiosity”.

The fulcrum of the SMART program is Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology (CBP). This is a modern version of an approach which was well-known among ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and can be assimilated by almost anyone. There have been over 50,000 studies on CBP, most demonstrating its efficacy in many mental health situations. In SMART’s experience, it is effective in universities, prisons and homeless shelters for addicted people. So, it can be assimilated by almost anyone. 

We don’t tell anyone what to do. It seldom works and usually aggravates the recipient of the advice. We let people know that recovery from an addiction is within the scope of human capacities, difficult though it is to achieve. We have no objection to appropriately-prescribed medication concurrently to treat the addiction or the underlying psychological disturbances which so often accompany addiction.

Smartrecovery.org is an interactive website which contains troves of information, provides 30 online meetings per week and the full roster of web services, from message boards to blogs. It is visited monthly by about 130,000 unique visitors and has over 175,000 registrants. Again SMART Recovery Australia and UKSR have their own interactive websites.

There have been a number of published articles about the SMART Recovery program and format but recently, two important controlled trials have appeared. One studied 183 participants with serious alcohol problems new to SMART Recovery meetings and followed them for 3 months, demonstrating excellent reductions in drinking days, drinks per drinking day and negative life experiences related to alcohol.  The other was a study from an Australian prison system. This study involved 3,000 inmates who were exposed to SMART Recovery and 3,000 carefully-matched controls. The results were a dramatic reduction in reconvictions and, especially, reconvictions for violent crimes, after release for those who had at least 10 exposures to the SMART Recovery program. 

Although it has been a 27-year struggle to gain general acceptance for the SMART Recovery self-empowerment approach, we seem now to be in the exponential growth phase of expansion and are having problems keeping up with the demand. 

If you are interested in becoming a facilitator, which involves about 20 hours of interactive online training, go to smartrecovery.org and enter “facilitator training” in the search box. We are training about 150 people per month, about 2/3 professionals or students training to become addiction therapists. Scholarships are available. Almost all the work in this organization is done by volunteers.

Joe Gerstein, MD, FACP
Founding President